With a unanimous City Council vote Monday night, Denver became Colorado’s first jurisdiction to ban use of conversion therapy to try to change the sexual orientation of minors.
Psychology’s governing bodies have denounced conversion therapy, which treats being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender as a mental illness. Research shows such therapy increases the risk of suicide, drug abuse and depression among teens.
“Tonight’s vote to ban conversion therapy is our city coming together and saying with one voice that we will never allow our LGBTQ+ youth to be the targets of these dubious practices, and that we are here to support them,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement. “Who they are is something to be celebrated, not maligned, and Denver will always be there to lift up our youth and ensure that they have the opportunity to grow up safe, happy and healthy.”
Hancock called passage of the proposal “a very proud moment” and thanked council members for their votes. The ban was recommended by Denver’s LGTBQ Commission and submitted by the Office of Human Rights and Community Partnerships.
The ban “will protect LGBTQ+ youth from dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” a city news release says. “This proposal is aimed at state-licensed therapists, operating their practice in the city, who are falsely claiming that being gay or transgender is a mental illness, and therefore taking advantage of parents and harming vulnerable youth.”
Denver’s City Council has a history of progressive decisions on LGBTQ issues, said Anton Schulzki, a Palmer High School teacher and board member of Inside/Out Youth Services, the Colorado Springs nonprofit for LGBTQ youths.
In the ’70s, it was the first city council in the state to decriminalize homosexual behavior, he said.
About the same time, Boulder County became first in the state to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
“Municipalities have kind of stepped out in front in that respect,” Schulzki said.
Richard Skorman, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, said conversion therapy is “a terrible practice,” and he would support a local ban.
“I vehemently oppose conversion therapy, and I think it should be discouraged in every way possible,” Skorman said.
But the council doesn’t plan to introduce such a proposal, and Skorman emphasized that he can’t speak for other council members.
“Do I see that (ban) happening down here? No,” Schulzki said. “That being said, I see that probably, that will take place more at the statewide level.”
Tuesday, Colorado inaugurated Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor elected in the United States. Democratic legislators, who now control both chambers of the state General Assembly, said they’ll try to ban conversion therapy in this legislative session, reports coloradopolitics.com.
House Democrats sent such a bill last year to the Republican-held Senate, where it was struck down for the fourth year in a row.
When a family forces a child into conversion therapy, they’re demonstrating “an egregious form of rejection of their child,” said Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of Urban Peak, a nonprofit that works with homeless youths in Colorado Springs. “That’s basically saying, ‘You are not OK. You must change. You’re not enough.’”
Kemppainen said about one-third of Urban Peak’s young clients are LGBTQ. “Family rejection because of LGBTQ status figures prominently in youth becoming homeless,” she said.
And while most youths don’t disclose experiences with conversion therapy, the Urban Peak staff hears “a few stories” about it each year, she said.
“It’s not our job to tell a parent what their beliefs should be, but it can be part of our role to help parents understand what actions they can take that will either support and protect their child versus put their child more at risk,” Kemppainen said.
While “it would be helpful” for Colorado Springs to consider a ban, she said, it’s not enough.
“I think the ultimate fix for the overall issue is to have a statewide or national ban on this sort of harmful process that we put young people through, and then put resources and energy into acknowledging that some families and parents are uncomfortable and don’t know what to do,” she said. “How can we blame someone for acting like that if they do not have other information?”
Advocates of such bans expect major gains this year, since the Nov. 6 midterm election swept in a Democratic majority in the U.S. House and saw many states gain Democratic leadership. In addition, two films on gay conversion have produced great buzz.
Sam Brinton of the Trevor Project, one of the groups pushing for a national ban, said thousands of people have signed up to help since the Nov. 2 release of “Boy Erased,” starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” also dramatizes the experience of youths subjected to conversion therapy.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia already have enacted laws prohibiting licensed therapists from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation.
Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and New York are expected to join those ranks in this year’s legislative sessions, say leaders of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, another group pushing for a national ban.
“We’d be disappointed if we don’t get those this year — they’re overdue,” said Shannon Minter, the center’s legal director.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.